Sol Campbell had more than a passing interest in the UEFA Women's Cup ahead of its restart.
Sol Campbell and his Arsenal FC team-mates were casting envious glances at their female counterparts this week as last season's quarter-finalists prepared to begin their quest for 2002/03 UEFA Women's Cup glory.
Arsenal have home advantage for their three Group 7 qualifying games over the next six days - something that would certainly be a boost for Dennis Bergkamp, afflicted by his fear of flying. "We all wish we could have that and play our European games at home,” said Campbell, who sponsors Gunners player Faye White.
The dressing-room link between the two sides is Vic Akers, manager of the women's team and kit man to the men's team. Campbell said: "He [Akers] keeps us fully informed about how they are doing and they are very successful in their own right. Both teams are hoping to do well in Europe and it's very good for the club if we both win trophies. We both want to be successful.''
First team in action
Twenty-four hours before Campbell and co play PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, their female counterparts kick off the first of this week's mini-tournaments against Gömrükçü Baku of Azerbaijan, who progressed from the preliminary qualifying round, at St Albans.
Arsenal, aiming for a place in the last eight once more after their elimination in extra time by French side Toulouse FC last year, also come up against Spanish double winners Levante Union Deportiva S.A.D. and KSC Eendracht Aalst of Belgium. Levante were only denied a place in last season's knockout stages by 1. FFC Frankfurt, the eventual winners of the competition.
Favourites to succeed
The German side, favourites to succeed again this year, are in Yugoslavia for their mini-tournament, where they will face ZFK Masinac-Classic Niš, ZNK Osijek and Shamrock Rovers LFC in Group 3. Last season's runners-up, Umeå IK, should advance along with the other seven section winners to the quarter-finals, AC Sparta Praha are likely to provide their stiffest opposition.
Norwegian side Trondheims-Ørn SK are in Greece to tackle FC PAOK Thessaloniki, Saestum from the Netherlands and Romanian dark horses FC Regal. Toulouse start their qualifying campaign against 1. FC Femina Budapest tomorrow in a four-team qualifying competition hosted by Italy's Lazio Calcio Femminile. Another beaten semi-finalist last term, HJK Helsinki, begin against Polish hosts KS AZZS Wroclaw.
The eight mini-tournaments draw to a close on Sunday, with uefa.com rounding up the action from across Europe the following day. Games in the last eight, semi-finals and also the final, unlike last season which was a one-off affair, will be played over two legs on a home-and-away basis.